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A Faceless State

March 31, 2009


Earlier I wrote about how much of the news coverage concerning the Mexican-US border was problematic. Using Giroux’s Reading Katrina: Race, Class, and the Biopolitics of Disposability, I showed that articles about violence towards Mexican immigrants dehumanized them into beings of disposability, human lives not worth protecting. With the recent rise of drug-related violence in Mexico, and the rise in media coverage, one can be sure that news stories about powerful drug-cartels, corrupt politicians, and poisonous smugglers will contain post-racial rhetoric.

On the front page of the New York Times today was a photograph of what looked to be three soldiers in a tank driving through a war zone. We find out however, that the soldiers are patrolling the streets of the border town Reynosa, where “A cartel has hired paramilitary force to protect its turf.”

We find out that Mexican drug cartels make more money than the government, have just as superior weaponry, and have infiltrated government positions including the US Embassy. Drug-related violence took over 6,000 lives in 2008 and already 1,100 in 2009.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently visited Mexico to speak with leaders about the crisis. While talking to the press, Clinton pointed out the United States’ role in the rise in crime. Clinton states, “Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade.” She also pointed out the United Sates role in producing weapons for cartels: “Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians.”
These sound bites have been quickly picked up and called “America bashing” by both Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly.

O’Reilly, exhibiting a truly masterful use of historical amnesia, actually goes as far as to say that America has nothing to do with the socio-economic state of Mexico.

What he forgets is that it was US government subsidized farming that flooded the Mexican market, single-handedly wiping out 2.8 million Mexican farm jobs from 1993 to 2005 . What he forgets is that it was US investments that helped introduce global capitalism into the Mexican economy destabilizing it. Furthermore the US does supply Mexico with a huge number of firearms. A statement given to the US Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs by the ATF and DEA reads, “according to the ATF’s National tracing Center, 90 percent of the weapons [in Mexico] that could be traced were determined to have originated from various sources within the US.” So it’s not just America bashing, but actually a fact the US citizens have bought drugs  and sold weapons to drug-cartels.

What is particularly problematic however, is the way in which the country of Mexico is portrayed. On “Fox and Friends” Steve Doocey frames his question to Wyoming Senator Barrasso with “We hear about all this stuff that’s going on down, down there, drugs, and guns, and just a constant flow of people across our southern border because it’s so porous.” Doocey’s statement makes Mexico seem like a dangerous war-zone, a place run by drug lords and violence. The faceless people we have seen on the news, running around with guns, are trying to invade our country, our homes. A statement made by Limbaugh on his show on 3.26.09 shows a similar image not one of a war-zone but of …

“Chaos — the chaos on the border. Mrs. Clinton going down to Mexico, saying it’s our fault. It’s the drug habits of Americans that are driving these gangs, and it’s making the gangs pull the triggers. It’s making the gangs get the guns. It’s making the gangs trying to get into the United States. It’s the United States’ fault.”

This statement again, disregards the history and current facts about America’s involvement with the Mexican economy and gun smuggling. Limbaugh’s, Doocey’s, and O’Reilly’s statements all continue to paint the picture of Mexicans as drug dealing killers. They disregard the fact that most illegal immigrants do not commit crimes in the United States, and are in fact trying to make a living by working in legal industries. The images of criminals further creates the idea that the Mexican population is a population of disposable bodies, that do not require protection or rights, rather they are faceless and a threat to our lives and values, already tarnished by liberals.

Crime appears to be the main target of this type of coverage. However, the omission of the facts, that actually hold the US accountable, and portrayal of Mexico as a nation of criminals, makes it irrefutable that it’s more than just crime that bothers these old white guys. It’s Mexicans.


Mad Money Falls Victim to Meta-Journalism…or just Jon Stewart?

March 24, 2009


Last week the Seattle Post-Intelligencer became, after recording more than $14 million in loses last year, the first newspaper in the US to move completely online. It’s an unsettling clear sign that newspapers are fighting a losing battle. At this point, it doesn’t seem too cynical to say that this will probably be the unfortunate future of newspapers, quarantined to the web, where they will be less prominent than they ever were. Newspaper loyalists, like myself, have gotten used to seeing reports like this. While the first reports of RIFs at the New York Times warranted much hand-wringing, articles about defunct publications gets little more than a resigned sigh.

 With print journalism going through these awkward changes broadcast news should fill its place. As I pointed out in my last post, it doesn’t appear that all programs are up for the task. Hosts like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly have gotten better ratings recently from saying and doing ridiculous things. Beck for instance has started a new segment called the 912 Project where he aims to “bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001.” Ah yes, bring us back to the day we were all scared out of our minds and didn’t want to get out of bed. 

It’s not just these conservative hosts. Anderson Cooper, Chris Matthews, and Campbell Brown all fall victim to the celebrity factor of broadcast journalism. There needs to be a way for the news on TV to be reigned in. I think that it’s in meta-journalism. The recent Jim Cramer and Jon Stewart showdown has been a far cry from what journalism should be, but a brief glimpse of what it needs.

Earlier this month, Stewart made a more than a few harsh criticisms of CNBC for telling investors and audiences to buy stock right up until the Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers crashed. CNBC, like CNN and Fox News, has gotten great ratings from having Jim Cramer and Rick Santelli say outrageous things. Cramer’s show Mad Money, feature Cramer analyzing stocks and then hitting buttons with loud sound effects. In one episode Stewart showed a video that systematically showed how poorly Cramer’s judgment had been right before the crisis, and how he was perhaps responsible for normal people losing thousands of dollars.

This led to Cramer defending himself on the Today show and eventually to an eight-minute interview with Stewart on The Daily Show. Stewart’s relentless, as he showed clips of Cramer from a 2006 interview where he talks about his dubious actions as a hedge fund manager. “A lot of times when I was short I would create a level of activity beforehand that would drive the futures.” He also explained the value in spreading rumors about stock, an activity that got him a subpoena in 2006. His unethical journalism and possibly illegal actions, made stock market into, as Stewart asserts, a “game.”

Stewart’s interviews with Cramer have been the most recent and popular example of meta-journalism. It’s not the first time he’s done it either. He famously admonished Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala for producing theatre instead of useful political debate, and recently criticized Bill O’Reilly for being hypocritical. Furthermore, Stewart is also the executive producer of The Colbert Report, a satirical show that pokes fun at programs like the O’Reilly Factor.

            What I find problematic about Stewart however is the same thing that befalls most other liberal television anchors. Maybe it’s the celebrity status that comes with having a show, or the rising popularity of news programs, but Stewart comes off as a bit self-righteous. In the Cramer interview, he barely let Cramer speak for himself, but rather called out clips to be shown like a prosecutor. This type of interviewing is fodder for conservative hosts who will gladly call this method elitism.

Meta-journalism can’t be sensationalist like the Cramer-Stewart interviews. In doing so, it does more harm than good, by appearing to be objective while actually being hypocritical. For the moment, the two biggest meta-journalist watchdogs are Colbert and Stewart. In the end of the Cramer interview Stewart asked that CNBC “start getting back to fundamentals on reporting” so that he could “go back to making fart noises and funny faces.” Meta-journalism clearly has a long way to go.



Glenn Beck’s Dinner Theatre

March 18, 2009

Glenn Beck  cries on his show:

This is pretty absurd. So absurd that Shep Smith, also of Fox News, mocked him. 

Chris Brown is not O.J. Simpson

March 10, 2009


Fox News chooses a highly "post-racial" photograph for it's article on the domestic abuse case

Fox News chooses a highly "post-racial" photograph for it's article on the domestic abuse case

Ah, celebrity arrests. They never cease to amuse us. It’s probably because celebrity arrest just provide that perfect release of jealousy. After all we spend all our time admiring, adoring, and respecting these people as they work their way up the social ladder making more money and buying more things than we could ever imagine. And just as we start to hate them for their beautiful cars, spouses, and lifestyles, they get arrested. Finally, we can have the higher moral standing. Where has all that money gone now, celebrity?

Well the latest celebrity run-in with the law has been Rhianna and Chris Brown. It certainly is an upsetting story, as a photo of Rhianna’s battered face was leaked recently. This has led to a great deal of coverage. However, while normally we could expect a certain amount of coverage, oohing, and ahhing, the domestic abuse case here is anything but post-racial.

For instance, take this article on the Daily Beast, where Rhianna’s case is compared with O.J. Simpson. “O.J. Simpson would have scored off the charts for lethality measures. I hope Rihanna understands the deadly nature of this victimization, before history repeats itself.” Linda Fairstein, the author of the piece, tells the grim story of Nicole Brown, Simpson’s wife, in juxtaposition with Rhianna’s. This is placement and comparison can’t help but draw attention to the image of the angry, violent, and criminal black man so often seen on television. In fact, the very way in which the Simpson case was covered on television was highly problematic, often portraying Simpson as the typical brutish athletic black man.

While Fairsten should be commended for the crux of her article, which was to examine the horrors of domestic abuse and the complicated and heartbreaking ways it persists, using O.J. Smpson as a point of similarity, when there are numerous celebrities who have gotten into abusive relationships, and thousands of cases in the United States, is troubling.

Fox News did not disappoint in their coverage of the case.

“In many cases, especially with celebrities, jail can be avoided with big fines, public acts of contrition, and heartfelt visits to Oprah.”

Perhaps that is the case for couch-jumping Scientologists but I would be surprised if Chris Brown was on the show any time soon. This article has few poignant post-racial moments. Firstly, and most egregiously it calls Rihanna the “alleged victim” when clearly she was. Secondly, by saying it would not have been made into anything had the “tussle” happened in New York it diffuses the actual case and blames “liberal media” for caring too much about these kinds of celebrity stories. Oddly enough, there is more coverage on Fox News about this case than on CNN or other “liberal” media sources. Most troubling is the imagery brought up by the above quote that mentions Oprah. One can’t but help think about why the writer chose Oprah and what stereotype she could represent.

Fundamentally, this was a sad case of domestic abuse. As there are more and more articles, examining Chris Brown’s background, we’ll be sure to see more questionable or problematic language. The black criminal is a historical image. One that in many ways, not only appeases the majority’s desire to see the successful fail, but to see successful minorities fail. It’s upsetting that this happened at all, but for the media to run with it and so clearly play into images of black criminality is quite unsettling. How can we possibly be living in a post-racial society?

Rush Limbaugh: Conservative icon or post-racial posterboy

March 3, 2009


This past Saturday, February 28, 2009, marked the 36th annual Conservative Political Action Conference, held in Washington DC. The conference attracted a huge audience of conservative students, politicians, and celebrities, all willing to rally around cries of “less government,” “protection of life,” and “we have all been given the same opportunities, regardless of the color of our skin!”

The keynote address was given by one of the loudest and most opinionated conservative voices in the United States, Rush Limbaugh. For ninety minutes he stood confidently and spoke passionately about America, it’s values, and it’s people. His articulation of the post-racial moment was spectacular.

He started his speech by confusing the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence, “We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life. Liberty, Freedom. And the pursuit of happiness.”

            Rush continues, “We are all different. There are no two things or people in this world who are created in a way that they end up with equal outcomes, that’s up to them. They are created equal to get the chance.”

Here, Limbaugh is purveying what, within post-racial discourse, is called “historical amnesia.” While Limbaugh says that it’s simply “up to them” and that we are all given the same chances, he is forgetting the history of our country. It’s fundamentally naïve, one might go as far to say ignorant, to believe that everyone in this country has the same chances. If this were true, how would Limbaugh explain the disproportionate poverty in this country? How would he explain the prison system? Is the social hierarchy in this country the way it is because some people have tried harder than others? Later on, Rush explained.

            “You know why they are poor? You know why they remain poor? Because their lives have been destroyed by the never-ending government aid designed to help them, but it destroys ambition, it destroys the education they might get to learn to be self-fulfilling, and it breaks our heart.” 

Rush asserts that ambition, or rather lack thereof is the cause of poverty in the United States. However, the education that Rush speaks of is not readily available, that’s why these government programs exist. Rush continues to explain why the Democratic Party is perpetuating disproportionate poverty. The same ideals can be found in the Moynihan Report one of the most important documents in post-racial discourse. It asserted that the Civil Rights Movement had achieved legal equality, and that now progress was in the hands of African Americans who had to become better people. Limbaugh is similarly, placing the poverty problem on the impoverished. If minorities are poor, it’s their problem for not being ambitious enough.

“We want the country to succeed, and for the country to succeed, it’s individuals, its people must succeed. Everyone among us must be pursuing his ambition or her desire, whatever, with excellence. Trying to be the best they can be. Not told, as they are told by the Democratic Party, you really can’t do that, you don’t have what it takes, besides, you’re a minority or you’re a woman and there are too many people willing to discriminate against you. You can’t get any where, you need to depend on us.”

By explaining claims of racial discrimination as methods of control, Limbaugh implies that racism is no longer a problem. We are now living in a post-racial country.

Not only have we seen that this country is not post-racial, but that the operations of the Republican Party aren’t either. At one point in his speech, Limbaugh states that it was not us asking whether Barack Obama was authentic.” Were claims of Obama being a terrorist or a Communist not queries of his authenticity?

Regardless of how clearly we can see post-racial discourse in Limbaugh’s speech and radio show, what’s most disturbing is his following which gains more and more support. He is becoming a voice of conservative Americans, and in his opinion, real Americans, not human waste. Who does Rush Limbaugh think is a real American?            


February 24, 2009


 If anyone needed more proof that we don’t live in a post-racial society, they should probably look at the picture above. It was printed in the NY Post, one of the three remaining newspapers in the city. While the New York Times has managed to survive on its reputation, liberal slant, and elderly readership, the Post has resorted to sensationalist crime stories, revealing photographs of celebrities, and absurd headlines (on Eliot Spitzer case, “Ho No!”).

In any case, the cartoon that ran in the post is a clear example that the election of Barack Obama did not end racism.

CNN covers the story:

The cartoon is exemplary of the current media attitude towards race. The NY Post has always been a questionable news source with a specific target market. The paper wouldn’t have printed the cartoon without knowing that at the very least, it’s core market would read it and in fact, laugh at it. Regardless of the fact that the cartoon is highly dubious, a huge risk for an editor, it was still printed because the readership is assumed to enjoy it. This is an example of what is commonly called within media studies as “social fragmentation.” As we develop more mediums of expression and communication, we develop more news outlets. However, people who are conservative, probably wont read this blog, even if they do stumble across Walt Kowalski or Michael Steele’s name. Furthermore, some liberals will read this and some wont. Even though there are new outlets, and different voices, people will still stick the beliefs and values they hold. That’s why the Post thought they could get away with this.

            The CNN coverage is an example of social fragmentation, but also of the illusion of the post-racial. One can’t help but notice that CNN might be trying to subtly point out how the Post is inferior. Firstly, they call the Post a “tabloid” which the Post wouldn’t admit. Secondly, notice the multiracial team that’s covering it? It’s a pretty good example of CNN’s coverage of race stories. You’ve got your attractive and racially ambiguous anchor who tells the story, followed by the token light-skinned black man with the in-depth analysis. Thirdly, the multiracial crew doesn’t seem to be that offended by it. So, knowing their market, CNN is centrist, the network can’t have this story told by white people, and furthermore, it can’t have the people of color to be that upset by it. But the truth is,  just because someone is black and is saying something on TV, something that someone else probably wrote for them, does not make them an authority on the issue.

 The correspondent says that there are two sides, and there certainly is. There’s the explicit reminder that racism is just a problem of the South anymore, and there’s the “post-racial” coverage, which tries to make us forget about it.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot something too. I hate Glenn Beck

Did he really just speak in pidgin?




Reinventing Post-Racial Journalism

February 17, 2009

In the past two blog posts I’ve given examples of how the media can frame minorities to perpetuate commonly-held stereotypes. The news has portrays Michael Steele as the Republican party’s token model minority, and Roger Barnett’s justification in threatening immigrants with guns and dogs. The question posed is “why do news networks do this, and how do they get away with it?” The answer lies is in the ratings and markets that news networks are constantly trying to improve upon.
In a 2002 Pew Research Center study broadcast news saw a large decline in viewership from 1993-2002, the largest decline was in the in the 18-24 year-old demographic. In 2004 the Pew Research Center conducted another study, which found that this demographic gets most of its news from late night talk shows. Noticing this trend, news networks have taken a turn towards what some might cal “news lite,” news that is fuses entertainment with informational content. This has led to great performances by Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Rachel Madow, Chris Mathews, and of course, Bill O’Reilly. (see talking points 2/16)

However, the greatest performance, and perhaps the most interesting example of news entertainment is the Daily Show host by comedian Jon Stewart.
In his article The Daily Show: Discursive Integration and the Reinvention of Political Journalism, George Baym explains how the structure of the show as “joke news” gives the program a unique opportunity. The nature of its structure as “fake news” allows the program “interweaves two levels of discourse, borrowing from equally from traditions of authoritative nightly news and the entertainment talk show.”
This structure of a news program that is comedy makes the show inherently a satire of news media. Interviews conducted by bored and stupid Daily Show correspondents are commentary on the way reports are conducted. In this way, The Daily Show plays a crucial role in keeping the media in check and uncovering the post-racial rhetoric that other networks might embrace. For instance, for segments that deal with Black History Month they have a “senior black correspondent.”

In doing so the Daily Show displays the transparency of other major news networks that have a token minority give the token opinion on Obama or black history. The show is quick to pick apart the post-racial discourse often seen in the news. They even picked up on something I did.

Another aspect of The Daily Show that sets it apart from other cable news broadcasts is the interviews. While the interviews on shows like Crossfire or The O’Reilly factor often descend into what Baym calls “verbal combat” interviews on The Daily Show are essentially “marketing devices” where the interviewee is trying to sell a product with civil conversation instead of a fierce shouting match. Baym argues that this encourages “deliberative democracy” which “understands the political system ideally to be comprised of individuals engaged in reasoned discussion.

By criticizing the mainstream media, and encouraging political discourse that is civil and productive, The Daily Show has proven its worth to 21st century journalism. However, what is most valuable about The Daily Show is it’s popularity in the 18-24 demographic. The program has proven that news, politics, and journalism are not the issues of an older generation, and as such has undoubtedly inspired a new wave of journalists.


A Real-Life Walt Kowalski

February 10, 2009

          On March 7, 2004, in Douglas, Arizona, five women and eleven men trying to cross the US border illegally were confronted by 64-year-old Roger Barnett, a real life Walt Kowalski. Barnett had, for ten years, made it his duty to find illegal immigrants and report them to the US Border Patrol. On this particular day he approached the group of 16 Mexicans with a shotgun and a dog. According to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who are currently representing the sixteen immigrants in a 32$ million dollar law suit, Barnett held the immigrants at “gunpoint, yelling obscenities at them and kicking one of the women.” The Washington Times picked up on the story and reported it.

            There have been numerous cases like this and the arguments made by these border vigilantes are similar to those in favor of border reform. Overwhelmingly, the opinion is that illegal immigrants aren’t Americans, thus, they shouldn’t have the same rights as Americans. Wait a second though; do all Americans have the same rights? Did Oscar Grant have the same rights as Roger Barnett?

            In his article, Reading Katrina: Race, Class, and the Biopolitics of Disposability,  Henry Giroux uses Hurricane Katrina to explain a “new kind of politics, one in which entire populations are now considered disposable.”  The populations that are considered “disposable” are the poor and the marginalized. These people don’t have rights, they don’t belong, and the government has no responsibility to protect them. This idea of a disposable population is enacted by government policy, but it is also heavily supported by media imagery.

As the Washington Times article points out, Barnett appears to be a man who has been wronged by illegal immigrants. They leave his ranch “littered with trash 10 inches deep, including human waste, used toilet paper, soiled diapers, cigarette packs, clothes, backpacks, empty 1-gallon water bottles, chewing-gum wrappers and aluminum foil – which supposedly is used to pack the drugs the immigrant smugglers give their ‘clients’ to keep them running.” Dirty and wasteful drug users are walking all over Mr. Barnett’s land, and destroy his property by killing his calves. In his own words Barnett says, “This is my land. I’m the victim here.”

The story portrays the biopolitics of disposability in a few ways. Firstly, we see that the immigrants are disposable because they are dirty, leaving their “human waste” on his property. Secondly, the immigrants are made disposable because they are criminal. They are seen as drug smugglers and users. Furthermore, they destroy his property, his calves, which is his income. I can’t help but feel that this is emblematic of the way some Americans view immigrants, as people who steal jobs from citizens.

Finally, I can’t believe that all 12,000 immigrants that Barnett had handed over to the police were drug dealing, calve killing, immoral criminals. Illegal immigrants are seen as disposable for many reasons; the myth of their criminality and the idea that they are bad for the economy are just a few. These reasons however, are justified by an overall disengagement and lack of acknowledgement as to why so many people wish to cross the border. Until people are confronted with imagery and news coverage that explains why people try to enter the country illegally, and why the property damage done to American citizens’ homes could be avoided with different immigration policies, there will be plenty more Barnetts, Minutemen, and disposable people.

Man of Steele

February 2, 2009


The new face of the RNC

The new face of the RNC

This past Saturday the GOP elected it’s new RNC chairman, Michael Steele… and look, he’s black!  I wonder if Obama’s election had anything to do with this? Well, actually I don’t, I’m pretty sure it had everything to do with our new president.

Just as Sarah Palin was picked to run for the Vice Presidency in order to make the Republican party look more progressive, Steele is meant to be the GOPs answer to the criticism that it’s a dying and regional southern party. Similar to Palin, however, the party is quick to remind everyone that he is still conservative, so you can have your image of a model minority politician and keep your conservative policies too. Fox News pundit Sean Hannity showed this better than anyone when Steele went on his show.

Hannity is quick point out his close ties with the new chairman and states “I was supporting you for a lot of different reasons Michael, and not the least of which is you are a conservative.” Hannity is quickly reassuring the conservative viewers that this black man is not a radical socialist, contrary to what you might quickly believe. What is implicitly put forth is that Steele’s race defines his political beliefs. Obama dealt with numerous accusations of being a crazy left-wing liberal or a radical muslim, both of which he is not. These accusations were simply based on assumptions that race defines a political affiliation. Certainly, you could point out the fact that statistically African-Americans vote Democrat, but Steele has never been anything close to that. He’s still against abortion, pulling out of Iraq, and the stimulus plan that Obama proposed last week.

Perhaps what’s more disconcerting however is how Fox News is making a pretty clear comparison between Barack Obama and Michael Steele and the way the RNC chairman is framed. Take this clip for example:

It’s not hard to see the implications of a statement like “his easy-going camera-ready sound bites aside, Steele says his party has real image problems and warned those who might get in the way of change.” The comparison between Obama and Steele in regards to policy is sparse. What Fox is attempting to do is frame Steele in similarity with Obama because of their entertainment quality. The clip ends with the correspondent remakring the Steele is “good with applause lines.” It’s quotes like these that exemplify the type of framing that is pervasive of African-Americans on the news, that of the entertaining minority. Steele is framed as  a performer who uses funny colloquialisms like “Howd’ya like me now?” 

The same model minority rhetoric that followed Palin and Obama is certainly bound to follow Steele who mentions how he grew up in DC. One can be sure that Louisiana Republican Bobby Jindal will soon be in the GOP limelight as another conservative minority. Steele’s election is a political move that appears to be post-racial, yet is highly racialized. Fox News’s coverage shows that the Republicans chose him for his image; that of the conservative, entertaining, and model minority.